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Obesity is advancing in the US. Stock photo from Pixabay

Obesity linked to high Covid-19 death rate

Obesity may be driving death rates in the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new study from the World Obesity Federation. Only old age is a higher risk factor.

Published: March 6, 2021, 9:52 am

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    Fox News reported that researchers from the World Obesity Federation (WOF) found “high mortality rates only in countries where overweight prevalence exceeds around 50 percent of the adult population”.

    “Globally, at the end of 2020, Covid-19 mortality rates were more than ten times higher in countries where overweight prevalence exceeds 50 percent of adults (weighted average 66,8 deaths per 100 000 adults) compared with countries where overweight prevalence is below 50 percent of adults (weighted average of 4,5 deaths per 100 000 adults),” the WOF noted.

    The researchers highlighted that a country’s wealth, reporting capacity, elderly population, or other factors could not explain the link between obesity and the Coronavirus death rate.

    Over the past 18 years, the United States has revealed one of the fastest growing obesity rates in the world, increasing from 30,5 percent to 42,4 percent of the population, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The country also boasts the 9th highest SARS-CoV-2  death rate in the world at 158,43 deaths per 100 000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

    The CDC underlined that obesity could in fact triple the risk of hospitalization due to the virus, as it causes impaired immune function as well as decreased lung capacity.  Data from the last two decades on the impact of MERS, H1N1 influenza and other influenza-related infections show worse outcomes linked to excess bodyweight.

    In China, a study by Cai Q et al found that those overweight (not obese) had 84 percent increased odds for developing severe Covid-19, and people with obesity had 240 percent increased odds for developing severe Covid-19. In the US, Steinberg et al found that people with obesity were more than twice as likely to need hospitalisation and more than six times as likely to need mechanically assisted breathing and more than six times as likely to die from the infection.

    Also, the vaccines currently being distributed around the world may be less effective in obese people. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute Regina Elena in Rome found that obese people produced notably fewer antibodies after being vaccinated compared to people with a normal body weight. The study was pre-published on Medrxiv, and is yet to be peer-reviewed.

    The term “overweight” means adults with a body mass index (BMI) above 25 kg/m2, a widely recognised threshold indicating an increased risk of developing weight-related chronic diseases. “Obesity” is classified as a BMI above 30 kg/m2.

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